Remember cutting paper snowflakes as a kid? Folding squares of paper, then cutting along their edges, and finally opening them up to reveal a rather chunky looking snowflake or a mess of cuttings that promptly fell apart in your hands.
Karen Bit Vejle’s paper cuttings involve that same process, but the results are incomparably delicate and lovely.
Vejle, who asks people to call her “Bit,” is a Danish-Norwegian artist whose work is currently adorning the walls of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.
“There’s a lot of mathematics,” explained the statuesque Scandinavian, sitting at a table at Fika, ASI’s in house restaurant. “You must fold the paper one, two, three, sometimes four times. The magic is that it hangs together as one piece; once you’ve cracked the code it’s like a gift.”
While her work displays the skill and mastery of a long-time practitioner, she’s only been showing it to the public for the last six years.
Growing up in Denmark, Vejle would, like other children, make paper cut designs for Christmas and Easter. It wasn’t until she was 16 that she saw the work of a psaligrapher, or professional paper cutter. She began cutting paper in earnest in her spare time, and stored her finished pieces under a rug.
As a teenager she would fall asleep at night creating images in her head, figuring out where she would need to make cuts and in what order.
“It’s like a dance between the blades and paper,” mused Vejle. “I feel a peace in my heart and soul when I’m cutting.”
In Norway, Vejle worked as a producer for a popular TV show, but a sudden illness forced her to quit.
When a colleague came to her home to visit, he found her cutting away at her latest creation. He convinced her she needed to show her work. Now she often receives commissions, including a major piece for the fashion powerhouse Hermès, as well as a visual response to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 1 Opus 8.
Open Eye Figure Theater is also presenting an original play based on the legacy of Hans Christian Anderson, who was known for his talent with paper and scissors.
“Papercut! The Incredible Psaligraphy of Karen Bit Vejle” runs through May 25 at the American Swedish Institute.